Fear of vaccinations slows down vaccination in Greece

The village of Socaras is located about 30 km from the southern coast of Crete and 50 km south of the island’s capital, Heraklion. According to Yannis Vilanakis, head of the community, only 50 out of 1200 residents have been vaccinated against Covid-19, and another 100 are on the waiting list.

Giannis himself doesn’t want to get vaccinated: “I don’t trust companies and vaccines,” he says. According to him, he leads a secluded life, so he does not see the need for an injection in the near future. “Perhaps in a couple of years” …

By the middle of last week, at least 3,973,336 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in Greece. Assuming that each person needs two doses (although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot), that’s enough to get about 18.5% of the country’s population vaccinated. While the vaccination program in Greece is progressing, data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show that vaccination rates in the country among people over 80 (63.5%) and among healthcare workers (63.9%) are among the lowest. European Union. About 27.6% of the population received at least one dose of the vaccine, placing the country below the EU average of 34.9%. Why are the numbers in Greece so low?

21.4% of the residents of the Heraklion Regional Office received at least one dose. Stamatis Andreddis, a 58-year-old resident of Socaras, is concerned about side effects, especially those using mRNA technology like Pfizer and Moderna. “I graduated from high school. And I have no idea what the side effects might be, ”he says.

The village priest has already been injected. Father Andreddis says his faith in God influenced his decision to avoid the injection, even if it means he is at risk of contracting the virus. The community has registered six confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far. “My life is in the hands of God. He will show me the way when the time is right, ”he says.

Father Andreddis says the coronavirus vaccine is not even a major topic of discussion among villagers these days. “The price of olive oil is the most important thing,” he says.

Andreddis’ 86-year-old mother, Anastasia, neglects vaccinations. “I’m 86, how much time do I have left?” She says. The woman says she is not afraid of the side effects. She just sees no reason to get vaccinated. “I am not afraid of death, why should I be afraid of the vaccine?”

Haralambos Pachialakis, 69, is also not afraid to receive the vaccine. But he also does not see the point in rushing. “I’ll do it later, if everyone else does it, and if I’m not busy. This is a small community. After all, we have very little contact with the outside world, ”he says.

Living safely in a relatively isolated community, away from urban centers, is not the only reason for low vaccination rates. Misinformation, conspiracy theories and, in some cases, religious belief (the Greek Orthodox Church has officially endorsed Covid-19 vaccination) have a significant impact on public attitudes towards vaccination.

At Larissa’s regional office in central Greece, only 20.1% of the population received at least one dose of vaccine by May 14, 2021.

“The media have not convinced me yet,” said the 62-year-old, who did not give his name, adding that most of the information comes from the local press and local clerics. Many Facebook pages belonging to Orthodox groups do not recommend Covid-19 vaccinations. The woman came under fire for posting in one of the Facebook groups a message about the vaccination of the Archbishop of Piraeus. She encouraged people to get vaccinated. “You put yourself above Metropolitan Ambrose, who is against vaccinations,” another woman told her.

However, skepticism about vaccinations is not always religious. Reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine is associated with rare cases of blood clots, mostly in women under 60, has kept many young women in Greece waiting for one of the other vaccines to become available on the government’s vaccination platform.

Some people don’t want to get vaccinated at all. Marietta, 24, says the gynecologist told her that “women of reproductive age should avoid getting vaccinated.” A 27-year-old nurse from Thessaloniki in northern Greece, who claims to be in an ongoing relationship, says it is not yet clear if vaccinations could affect pregnancy.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends: “If you are trying to get pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, you can get the Covid-19 vaccine. There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including those against Covid-19, cause problems with fertility or the ability to get pregnant. “

Others remain passive due to health problems. “I suffer from four autoimmune diseases and I cannot trust a vaccine that is still in its experimental stage and that apparently causes many side effects, even death,” said the 59-year-old artist, without identifying herself, although most of the side effects leading to death is not associated with vaccination.

The 58-year-old anesthesiologist says that although he is worried about contracting the virus, he decided to wait. “Research is still ongoing,” he says. “I would like to be presented with a more reliable drug so that I don’t feel compelled to make a decision,” he says.

Michalis Giannakos, head of the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Workers (POEDIN), says the data presented skews the level of vaccination of health workers. “Ten percent of staff are on a waiting list or are people who have been advised by doctors not to get the vaccine,” he says. Some healthcare professionals may have been skeptical at first, but now they have recovered. He adds that 6,000 healthcare workers have contracted the virus and have not been vaccinated. “There are no Covid deniers in our ranks,” he said.

Mixed picture

Vaccinations are progressing well in some regional offices. In Kea Kythnos, 62.8% of the population received at least one dose. In Northern Athens, this figure is 45.4%. However, in other areas, it is still very low. In East Attica, 13.7% of the population received at least one dose. In Western Attica, this figure is even lower – 13%.

Thanassis Avgerinos, deputy governor of East Attica, says he doesn’t know any specific reason why people avoid getting vaccinated. The vaccination center staff are more optimistic. When asked about those who deny vaccination, the director of the Koropi Center, Giorgos Bellos, said that “we do not face such a problem.” Kyriaki Akritidou, head of vaccination at Megara Health Center, says there are many vaccination appointments at the facility and no one is canceling them. “We are on a very good path, we are building a wall of immunity,” said Mayor of Mandra-Eidillias Christos Statis.

Constantinos Karambelas, city council president and director of public health for the municipality of Megara, says the numbers are low because some people have canceled the AstraZeneca vaccination. But mostly due to a lack of staff at vaccination centers and supply problems.

In the first six weeks, Megara Health Center was able to get 38 vaccinations per day. Since then, that number has grown to 75. “There was a shortage of personnel and vaccines,” said Karambelas. “Now everything is ticking like a Swiss watch.”

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